HCS has new digs for packing groceries

Large gym at Anne M. Jeans School offers room to store donations, pack bags for clients

A change in operations has led to a temporary change in headquarters for HCS Family Service.

With social distancing requirements in place, the Hinsdale nonprofit could no longer allow clients to shop for their own groceries at its two food pantries. Instead, HCS is offering a drive-through pick up of pre-packed bags of food.

The new process - and a 78-percent increase in clients - made for tight quarters in the basement of the Memorial Building and a classroom at Anne M. Jeans School in Burr Ridge where staff and volunteers were working.

"It's very labor-intensive to get all those bags ready," said Stan Cook, HCS executive director. "As the demand grew, it became very challenging to produce all these bags in our small spaces."

In stepped Tom Schneider, superintendent of Community Consolidated District 180. which includes Anne M. Jeans. Cook needed space; Schneider had an entire building that was not in use.

"Tom generously volunteered to give us all the space in his gymnasium for the foreseeable future," Cook said.

Schneider said he was happy to help.

"We love our partners at HCS and if there ever is anything we can do to make their lives easier, we'll do it. They're great," he said. "They've really done an amazing job helping our families."

The district notified families who qualify for the free lunch program about HCS after schools closed in March. Instead of serving 35 to 45 families a week, the Burr Ridge pantry began serving 100 or more families.

"It just made sense for them to spread out," Schneider said. "Not only do they have more food to distribute in a different way, but they also have an influx of volunteers that they are trying to maintain social distancing with."

Hinsdale's Lisa Vaughan was working the morning shift Tuesday, moving a cart filled with four grocery bags through the gym. Each of the long tables contained a certain type of item, such as canned fruit or pasta sauce, and a sign telling volunteers how many to pack in each bag.

Vaughan, who knows Cook from Community Presbyterian Church in Clarendon Hills, is a new volunteer who worked her first shift recently at the Memorial Building.

"It's a lot easier over here," she said. "It's a little more socially distant - and not so hot. It's nice of the school to let them use the gym for this."

Vaughan, her husband Chris and daughters Britta and Tate often volunteer at PRC in Westmont on weekends. But now, working from home, she is available to volunteer with HCS during the day.

While the gym is set up like an assembly line, Vaughan said packing groceries is not a mindless task.

"A lot of elderly people are on specialized diets. I worry about that," she said. "I try to pick out stuff I think my kids would eat."

Volunteers working in two shifts were expected to pack 400 bags of dry goods on Tuesday, Cook said. Clients also receive a bag of fresh produce; meat, milk and eggs; a loaf of bread; and some personal care products. Each distribution is expected to last a family a week.

Many bags will be picked up at the school from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. Others will be brought back to Hinsdale for its distributions from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Friday and 2 to 3 p.m. Monday.

With grocery store donations - which make up 70 percent of HCS' inventory - down 40 percent, the organization is relying on the generosity of individuals, companies and foundations as it works to meet the increased demand, Cook said.

"All of these groups are stepping up in this difficult time to help," he said, mentioning Kramer Foods in Hinsdale and several other donors.

He is grateful that HCS has food to distribute but saddened that clients have lost the ability to choose their own groceries.

"We do have to find a way to get back to that when we can do so safely," he said.

Author Bio

Author photo

Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean